• 18 April 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Human Rights in Iran, Neo-Con Agenda, Nuclear file

Washington and Tehran’s Vicious Spin Cycle

The crux of negotiations between the U.S. and Iran is that, at some point, in order to succeed, each side will have to take a deep breath and shake hands on a deal. But thirty years of mutual demonization and fear mongering, means it takes serious political courage to come to the table, and even more courage—and a major investment of political capital—to actually accept a deal and sell it at home.

One way each side builds such political capital is to spin the talks as favoring the home team. This zero-sum approach—building capital at the expense of the other side—is dangerous and can create a precarious back and forth.

After modest success in Istanbul this past weekend, we’re seeing this back and forth play out as the sides prepare for the next round of talks in five weeks in Baghdad. Tehran has portrayed Washington as having softened its position and backed down from previous demands—particularly on the issue of whether Iran has the right to enrichment.

As Robert Wright speculates in the Atlantic, “If Iran’s leadership thinks it may do a deal with a government it has long framed as the great Satan, it needs to tell the Iranian people that it’s bringing Satan to his knees.” He points out that, as Tehran spins one way to build domestic support and to perhaps insulate the negotiations from political backlash at home, the opposite happens among opportunists in the U.S.

The Washington Times, for instance, takes Fars News at its word that the U.S. is granting Iran concessions, seizing on Tehran’s domestic spin to attack the talks. The very same groups that dismiss positive news like Khamenei’s fatwah against nuclear weapons as religious dissembling are, ironically, the most eager to treat Iran’s anti-U.S. spin as gospel–so long as it can be used to attack the Obama Administration’s diplomacy.

For its part, the U.S. is doing the exact same kind of spinning. In Haaretz yesterday, an unnamed U.S. official pushed back against criticism from Bibi Netanyahu that the Istanbul talks were a “freebie” for Tehran. Such an attack from Netanyahu–delivered with Senator Joe Lieberman at the Prime Minister’s side–is politically damaging for the White House and for the talks. Bibi may not technically be a domestic political opponent of the President, but nobody has bothered telling that to Congress.

So, the U.S. and European officials spin Haaretz, essentially saying they manhandled Iran:

“The senior U.S. official emphasized that an agreement is in place between the six world powers that even if Iran carries out trust-building steps and suspends uranium enrichment to 20 percent, it will not receive anything in return.”

Not exactly a face saving proposition for the Iranians. The report continues:

“He added that it was made clear to the Iranians in these discussions that there would be no suspension of sanctions on the part of the United States and the European Union, nor would there be a postponement of the European oil embargo, which will come into effect on July 1.”

Political interests inside of Iran could very well employ the same opportunism as the Washington Times and seize on these “official” comments to attack the talks.

We saw this happen during the October 2009 diplomatic dance, when Iran agreed to a confidence building deal with the U.S. and others in principle, but then backed away when the deal was attacked by Ahmadinejad’s political opponents of all stripes in Iran.

One of the reasons ultimately cited by Tehran for scuttling the deal was the way the agreement was portrayed in Western media outlets. Officials suggested it was a major coup for the U.S. at Iran’s expense. The Iranians implied they could not sell such an agreement once it was perceived as being so unbalanced against Iran—no matter how appealing it may have initially looked on paper.

This time around however, there is the apparent imprimatur of the Supreme Leader for continued negotiations. For Iran, this represents the strongest form of “political capital” to insulate the talks, for the time being.

But there is a long road ahead, and many issues to address—including not just nukes, but the even more difficult challenge of addressing Iran’s human rights situation. If the two sides are able to get through the initial bumps on this long road, and establish a true diplomatic process that is insulated from domestic politics, there is hope the talks can be broadened and sustained to achieve tangible success. But if not—if the two sides are unable to build positive sum political space and the mutual spin becomes a vicious cycle—the negotiations could easily spin into failure.

Posted By Jamal Abdi

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Sign the Petition

 

7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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